A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
Frank McCloud travels to a run-down hotel on Key Largo to honor the memory of a friend who died bravely in his unit during WW II. His friend's widow, Nora Temple, and wheelchair bound father, James Temple manage the hotel and receive him warmly, but the three of them soon find themselves virtual prisoners when the hotel is taken over by a mob of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco who hole up there to await the passing of a hurricane. Mr. Temple strongly reviles Rocco but due to his infirmities can only confront him verbally. Having become disillusioned by the violence of war, Frank is reluctant to act, but Rocco's demeaning treatment of his alcoholic moll, Gaye Dawn, and his complicity in the deaths of some innocent Seminole Indians and a deputy sheriff start to motivate McCloud to overcome his Hamlet-like inaction. Written by
The main character, Frank McCloud, describes having served with Nora's late husband in the WWII battle at San Pietro, Italy; director/co-screenwriter John Huston had been involved in that battle as the creator of the documentary film San Pietro (1945) while he was in the U.S. Army's motion picture unit. See more »
Mr. Temple says of the oncoming storm that it is unusual to have one this late in the season, and that they usually happen early in the summer. In fact, the Atlantic hurricane season peaks near the end of summer, around September 10. Hurricanes in early summer (June-July) are much less frequent. See more »
When I think of the colorized version that, regrettably, is the only copy of this excellent film noir in my video store, I can't help but think of a comment Orson Welles made to a friend a few days before his death in regards to Turner's plans to colorize "Citizen Kane"(thankfully defeated, because of the fact that it came under Welles' original contract with RKO, which specified that only Welles would make changes): "Keep Turner and his g**d*** Crayolas away from my movie." Watching this version of "Key Largo" more than proves Welles' point; the lighting becomes terrible in several key scenes, particularly the closing ones on the boat, to whereas before, you could see what was going on, now you can just barely tell a thing. That said, it can't destroy the fine work that this film truly is.
I was led to this film by my mother, who called it one of her favorites from Bogie (another being "The African Queen") and now I can see why. Leave it to John Huston, the man who was bold enough to make a true adaptation of Dashiell Hammet's "The Maltese Falcon", to give us a tightly woven drama that never feels forced. Bogie's Frank McCloud is probably the most silent of all the strong-silent types he ever played, barely saying more than is necessary for the scene he's in. Such reticience leaves some large blanks for the audience to fill; though he says that he doesn't care one way or another, I really don't believe him. The feeling I get the entire time he's in the clutches of Johnny Rocco's gang is that he's just waiting for his moment. After all, you don't survive WWII's Italian campaign and not know when it's best to stay still and when it's best to make your play. That's why he threw away the gun offered to him by Rocco; no way was Rocco's gang just going to let their boss be gunned down even if the deck was stacked in Rocco's favor. The murders of the deputy and the Indians on the lam just adds to the need to take care of business.
I was a little disappointed to see Bacall in such a minor role (it still had to be better than what she was given, sans Bogie, after this film, from reports I've heard), but her spitting in Rocco's face is an undeniably powerful moment. As for Edward G. Robinson, one of Hollywood's original tough guys imported from Bucharest, Romania, he literally runs away with the part of Johnny Rocco, the former big-shot with delusions of grandeur. He's a casually vicious, ruthless fount of hate, bitter over his fallen status and hungering for a comeback. But he still fails to draw an important lesson from his soused ex-galpal: times change and not necessarily for the better. He may have defied a ton of police in his day or gun down a deputy in this one, but it still doesn't change the fact that the outside world (nicely symbolized by the hurricane) can and will eat him alive without the slightest trace of indigestion. All Rocco is is a dinosaur: proud, strong, but too stupid to realize that his kind have become extinct.
In fact, that may very well be why McCloud was such a natural match for Rocco as an opponent. McCloud had changed his spots many times in his life to fit the job situation he was in, while Rocco has never been anything else but what he is now. Small wonder that one can see the confrontation between them coming to full steam. This core element, and all the others mentioned and not mentioned here, help make "Key Largo" one of the great unsung classics of Humphrey Bogart AND Edward G. Robinson. Here's looking at you, tough guys.
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